Warm weather welcomes thousands to Edmonton winter festival

A Round Dance brought the crowd together at Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival in Edmonton.

By Terry Lusty

(ANNews) – January, usually noted as the coldest of winter months, greeted thousands of Edmontonians and out-of-town visitors to this year’s annual 16th Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival, with unseasonably mild temperatures ranging as high as plus 4 to 6 degrees.

Hoop Dancer Lakota Tootoosis.

As a result, folks from all over the province turned out in droves to mix, mingle and enjoy dozens of alluring events, ranging from outdoor bannock baking by Vera Poc and Sharon Larose, to hotdog roasts and horse-drawn wagon rides and giant snow slides. Other highlights included fiddling frenzies, drumming and singing, intricate hoop dancing by Lakota Tootoosis – so often a true-blue crowd pleaser – and Indigenous craft making and sales by Donna Robilard, Anna Muskego, Joanna Halcrow, and others.

At the conclusion of his skillful performance, Tootoosis had all sorts of youngsters scrambling to take a trial run at the difficult task.

The Jan. 21 – 22 event, blessed with warm weather and sunshine, attracted all sorts of people to the 118th Avenue district where events featured ice sculptures and demonstrations in addition to a giant snow slide that had kids lined up by the dozens to take their turn at having a grand time of it.

No matter where one went, there was no shortage of something  for everyone – music, songs, storytelling, warmth, maple syrup, and more! All this in addition to a Saturday night round dance that invited all people to join in and experience Indigenous culture at its finest.

Most of the Native components of the festival transpired at the Pipon Village on 118th Avenue and 92nd Street where tipis and wall tents had been erected to accommodate the happenings. A partnering community organization, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, was also on site to offer traditional, cultural and language activities that provided a totally new experience for many of the visitors.

Craftswoman Celina Loyer provided a beautiful weaving demonstration.

Craftswoman Celina Loyer was very busy in one of the tipis, demonstrating the centuries-old art of finger weaving in the creation of colourful, attractive Metis and First Nation sashes. She also availed herself to answer many questions regarding the colours and designs employed in her creations. In most instances it was a craft that was handed down in families from one generation to the next. Sadly, there is a dwindling number of artisans that continue this artform.

There were several fiddle players performing this year including  versatile veteran champion, Calvin Vollrath, as well as Daniel Gervais, Brianna Lizotte and newcomer Zach Willier.

Some of the outdoor activities drew sizeable crowds to witness tall tilt walkers, snow princesses, axe throwing and log sawing demonstrations and oldtime basket weaving from willows. In addition, there was also the opportunity to take in short films at St. Faiths Anglican Church and the Carrot Coffeehouse, or mosey about in the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts where the works of professional and emerging artists were on display and for sale.

This year’s festival was dedicated to the memory of one of its longtime, devoted organizers and tireless workers – Gaetan Benoit, 43, who passed away before his time due to brain cancer. He was known to especially work at films and video productions, and help with recipes, and the development of the Kitchen Party event.

Terry Lusty is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.


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